Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
And Practice drives me mad.
– John Napier
Ah yes, Mr. Napier. My son and I feel your pain on a quite personal level. We could have easily authored this rhyme a week ago as we practiced mathematical graphing in our classroom…
Maybe he was feeling a little stubborn. Perhaps my explanations were not clear enough. Or did the stars fail to align just right over us on that fateful day? (I kid, of course) Whatever the case may have been, the lesson concepts at hand that day were not breaking through to my boy.
Before us lay a straight line grid akin to the board of the classic game, Battleship. We had studied out the concepts together, practiced lining up the numbers, pored over real life examples. We were getting on quite swimmingly…until IT hit. Mental block. A teacher’s worst enemy.
I asked him to tell me the two corresponding numbers that met at a certain point. He replied:
“One and three”
“You are very close, but one of your two numbers is incorrect. Let’s try again”
He is silent for a moment, then repeats: “One and three”
“No Silly, you just said that. Now look closer. There is a line all the way to the three, yes. But is there a line all the way to the one?”
“Well, no…but I’m sure the answer is one and three, Mom”
“Buddy, remember that game, Battleship, that you’re so good at? This is just like that game! I know you can do this. Take your finger and follow the lines away from the point. What two numbers are at the end of those lines?”
“One and three”
Now at this point I was feeling slightly like banging my head into a brick wall, but trying to keep my composure. The same sort of maddening dialogue carried on for a little while as I tried every prompt imaginable to bring him to the right conclusion. (Short of flat out giving him the answer – which would remove our momentary stress, but keep me from my long-term goal of training him to think with high logic and deductive reasoning skills).
Finally, after what seemed ten light years later…
“Ohhhhhhhh…I GET IT, MOM!! That point’s not on the one and three, that’s on the zero and three!”
“Yes, that is correct!” I cry in relief, (then raise my eyebrows knowingly)…”I tried to tell you that one of your numbers was incorrect, Little Man”
“I know you did, Momma. I’m sorry…” he admits sheepishly. “I just had the number ‘one’ stuck in my mind and I couldn’t get it out!”
One of the greatest blessings of being a home educator is the right to share spiritual truth in the classroom; this was a teaching moment I could not pass up. I explained to my son that God’s word is a lot like math…full of definitive answers. Although we may at times think we’re smarter than the book, the book will win every time. The rules of arithmetic are unshakable, and not up for personal interpretation…and how much more is this true of the Bible. The trick is not to get stuck on what we think is the right answer, but to always double check that we are indeed believing truth.
Now at the end of the day, math alone isn’t the most important thing on earth. The primary purpose of Christian education is gaining the spiritual knowledge that earthly knowledge points to. The truth is, I don’t really care if my sons grow up to be the world’s greatest mathematicians. Rather, my goal is to raise up Sum Solving Sleuths…detectives of the Word…truth seekers. Every equation solved can lend spiritual application for their future…even on those days when “practice drives us mad”.
- Have you ever tried to fight “The Book”?
- Have you ever had an error “stuck in your mind”?
- Have you ever closed your ears to an adviser’s “tips and tricks” for fear of admitting failure?
Today I want to share with you three steps to becoming a Sum Solving Sleuth. In fact, these simple tricks might even help you solve some math problems as well…
I love watching detective shows with my husband. Give us a good “whodunit” episode and a bowl of popcorn and we’ll get so involved we come out feeling like a regular Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Watson. If you’ve seen such programs, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this classic phrase: “return to the scene of the crime”. It’s something criminals do in many cases, but think about it…it’s actually something detectives do in all cases! Detectives are called to the scene of the crime to assess the situation; to see what the common eye missed the first time around. Return. Reconsider. Rewind.
- Every successful detective must learn how to rewind. In crime solving, it’s essential to start from square one. Detectives must gather all evidence from beginning to end, lest vital information be lost.
- Every successful mathematician must learn how to rewind. In arithmetic, it’s necessary to go back and re-read directions. Mathematicians must make sure they have followed the correct formula for their equations, lest one misstep in the process deem an entire page erroneous.
- Every successful Sum Solving Sleuth must learn how to rewind. In Christianity, it’s imperative to revisit scriptures we think we’ve got all figured out. Sum Solving Sleuths must leave their preconceived notions at the door, lest they be blindfolded by the father of lies.
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. – Isaiah 1:3
Do you have a desire to know the Lord in sincerity? Approach scripture as if you’ve never read it before, no matter how familiar. Clear your mind of what you think you know and let the Living Word speak for itself afresh each time you read. Humans make mistakes. We get confused. We misunderstand. As the old Blockbuster movies used to say, “please be kind, rewind“. This is the greatest kindness one might give themselves. Our relationship with the Lord is too all-important to stake our future with Him on “I thought I knew”.
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. – Job 42:5
If you want to be a detective, learn how to return to the scene of the crime. If you want to be a mathematician, learn how to re-read the directions. If you want to be a Sum Solving Sleuth, learn how to re-check Scripture. Please be kind, rewind.
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. – 1 Peter 2:2
In murder mysteries, everyone is a suspect. A detective can not have bias or make assumptions when meeting with suspects, but treat all equally. Everyone is either innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent. Colonel Mustard may seem more menacing, but could the culprit in fact be the sweet, unassuming, Mrs. White? A detective won’t make that call until he’s uncovered all the details. Things are not always as they seem.
- Every detective must learn how to open their mind. In crime solving, a closed mind does not lead to a closed case. Detectives must follow the ABC mantra of British crime scene manager, John Cockram – “Assume nothing. Believe nobody. Check everything.”
- Every mathematician must learn how to open their mind. In arithmetic, it’s helpful to think outside the box. Mathematicians must often use a variety of methods before their “light bulb” switches on.
- Every Sum Solving Sleuth must learn how to open their mind. In Christianity, humility keeps the mind malleable for the Lord. Sum Solving Sleuths recognize that there is often more than one way of perceiving God’s words.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. – John 5:39
The Pharisees were so closed minded that they could not see the forest for the trees. Here was the Messiah that they had read about all their lives, standing before them in the flesh, and still they did not recognize Him. They had our rewinding down pat…they had read the scriptures again and again. How could they miss the truth? They failed to open their minds. They had read, but they had not truly studied. That is to say, they had not considered any possibilities outside of their own narrow scope. They saw what they wanted to see. Do we not often make the same grave mistake? We need to stop putting our own spin on scripture, and start letting scripture put it’s own spin on us. Always be open to the possibility of being proved wrong.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. – Isaiah 55:8-9
If you want to be a detective, learn how to consider every suspect. If you want to be a mathematician, learn how to incorporate a variety of methods. If you want to be a Sum Solving Sleuth, learn how to see passages in a new light. Open your mind.
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. – Psalm 119:18
Sleuthing gets really exciting when the case nears its close. Sure, it’s fun to watch detectives gather evidence (rewind), and curiosity builds even more as they talk to suspects and mull over all the possibilities (open your mind), but when the culprit is caught and justice wins (seek and find) the thrill reaches new heights. “Who’s it going to be?”…”What’s going to happen?”
- Every detective must learn how to seek and find. In crime solving, you can rewind and open your mind all day long, but it won’t amount to much if no one actually goes out out and nabs the criminal. Detectives must help finish the job they set out to do.
- Every mathematician must learn how to seek and find. In arithmetic, a partial answer is no better than a non-answer. Mathematicians must work each problem to completion in order for it to be accurate.
- Every Sum Solving Sleuth must learn how to seek and find. In Christianity, many go back to basics and consider the truth, but shun it when it doesn’t match up with their lifestyle and desires. Sum Solving Sleuths must accept and obey the truth – if they would be victorious.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. – Psalm 10:4
Pride and personal cost can blind people from seeing facts. The detective who finds out his friend was involved in a murder may not be quick to believe even the most glaring evidence. The young mathematician who doesn’t want to admit defeat to his mother may not be quick to reveal his error. The Sum Solving Sleuth who realizes that submitting to God’s authority means crucifying the flesh may not be quick to pick up a bible again. Yet facts are facts, and the truth will always catch up with us. The good news is, we are promised that being on God’s side will always reap the most benefits (in the end). If we seek and find, a happy ending is what we have in store.
The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. – Psalm 34:10
If you want to be a detective, learn how to add up all the evidence for a grand finale. If you want to be a mathematician, learn how to see your equation through to completion. If you want to be a Sum Solving Sleuth, learn how to take the knowledge you’ve acquired, and put it into action. Seek and find.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13
You have within yourself the potential to be a great detective and mathematician. Get into God’s word and start sum solving like Einstein; sleuthing like Holmes. I’m telling you now what I told my son a week ago: you’re way too smart to let a wrong answer get “stuck in your mind”.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. – Proverbs 25:2
Rewind, Open Your Mind, and Seek and Find. You’ll be a Sum Solving Sleuth in no time, for these steps are simply…
Elementary, my Dear Watson.
For God’s Glory,
Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.